Unionized staff at the Nelson and District Community Complex have voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of job action.
The members of CUPE sub-local 2262, which represents 55 employees at the arena, swimming pool, and fitness facility, held the strike vote Saturday afternoon, according to the union.
A majority of members turned out to cast ballots, and all voted in favour of a strike. The union issued 72-hour notice Monday before 4 p.m. Their employer is the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
“No one wants to go down this road, but the regional district has left us little choice,” local president Leford Lafayette said in a news release. “It all comes down to wages, term, and benefits: we asked for cost of living and minor benefit increases, but they said no.”
Lafayette said they have been offered a two-year agreement that expires in six months and includes wage increases of one per cent in each year, but no benefit improvements.
“If the union were to agree to this, we’d be behind the cost of living by three per cent over the last three years.”
Since the last collective agreement expired a year and a half ago, the sides have met several times, but been unable to reach a settlement.
They’ve been bargaining since February and met with mediator Mark Atkinson for two days last week. Atkinson booked out yesterday.
“They came after every cornerstone of our collective agreement: seniority, hours of work provisions, and full-time/part-time designations,” Lafayette said. “We spent a long time negotiating back and forth on language.”
The union is seeking a three-year contract with a cost of living hike over the term.
In an interview, Lafayette said it’s “quite possible” picket lines could go up, but they don’t intend to shut the facility down entirely or prevent the Nelson Leafs from playing home games.
“We would be trying everything in our power not to do that,” he said. “We’re working to minimize any impact we would have on the hockey season. We’re going to try our darndest that no games are affected.”
The two sides are expected to meet at 3:30 this afternoon to discuss essential services. Any disagreement would be settled by the Labour Relations Board.
Regional district chief administrator Jim Gustafson said in an interview that such decisions usually come down to safety.
He added that it would be impossible for management to run the entire facility in the face of a full-scale walkout, as they don’t have enough people with proper certification to operate equipment or supervise the pool.
Gustafson said they’re waiting to learn what job action might entail.
“We haven’t had any indication one way or the other,” he said. “That’s the thing in the back in our mind: a full strike? Or rotating? Is there a weekly schedule? Daily schedule? We’d want to hear how it’s going to work.”
The regional district has four bargaining units, representing recreation complexes in Creston, Castlegar, and Nelson as well as head office staff in Nelson.
Gustafson said following the economic downturn a few years ago, staff at head office and at the Creston complex accepted wage increases of two per cent over two years. A similar agreement was reached for Castlegar through 2011, but 2012 has not been settled.
“Those other parties reached agreement with the one-and-one, but now that we’re dealing with Nelson, things have perhaps changed a bit, so their folks feel the one-and-one falls short of expectations,” Gustafson said. “Our position has been that’s the mandate that we have.”
CUPE 2262 members include fitness technicians, lifeguards, aquafit and swimming instructors, as well as maintenance, custodians, customer service reps, and child minders.